Utagawa Kuniyoshi

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Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797-1861) was an Ukiyo-e print designer of the Utagawa School in the late Edo Period.

Born the son of a dyer in the Edo working class district of Nihonbashi, he became an apprentice to Utagawa Toyokuni after demonstrating his prodigious artistic talent to the master at the age of twelve. In his first print series as a professional artist, 'Popular 108 Heroes of the Suikoden, Told One by One' (1826), Kuniyoshi's interpretation of the tattoos worn by some of the Suikoden heroes was extreme, with men tattooed from their back, arms and legs in one all-covering design. As impressionable young men in Edo copied the tattoos in Kuniyoshi's prints the whole-body tattoo 'suit' now synonymous with Japanese tattooing was born.

Some academics and tattoo artists today claim that Kuniyoshi himself was tattooed with a dragon design, although this remains uncorroborated.

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